REDMOND, Wash., May 12, 1999 — In an effort to focus the high-tech sector on a rapidly growing, and extraordinarily influential, segment of Internet customers, Microsoft Corp. today issued a white paper titled, “Effective Web Design Considerations for Older Adults.”
The white paper contains comprehensive design guidelines for businesses and Web developers on how to make their Web sites more accessible and user-friendly for older adults. Microsoft contends that the industry needs to become more sensitized to the unique challenges seniors face with technology and recognize that addressing these issues is as much about good business as it is about being a good corporate citizen. The paper is part of Microsoft’s worldwide initiative to help ensure that seniors have the ability to realize the exciting possibilities computers can provide and that they have the skills necessary to benefit from technology.
Craig Spiezle, director of the Microsoft® Senior Initiative and author of the white paper, said he hopes that Microsoft’s work will help drive the industry to consider the needs of older users. “This is new ground for our industry, and we all – including Microsoft – have a lot to do to make the Internet a more enjoyable and valuable experience for seniors,” he said. “We hope to heighten industry awareness and encourage better up-front planning and design of Web pages that are likely to be surfed by seniors.”
Seniors are the fastest-growing users on the Internet and are spending more time online than any other group. Zona Research Inc. recently reported that seniors outspent other age groups online at a ratio of 3-to-1 during the 1998-1999 holiday season. However, according to Spiezle, the industry has underestimated the ways in which seniors can use computers as a tool for living and has been slow to recognize the growth of technology use within that segment of the population.
“What we’ve found is that seniors are rapidly embracing the Web lifestyle, but that the Web doesn’t necessarily welcome seniors with open arms,” Spiezle said.
The year 2000 will mark a shift in the world’s demographics when, in certain parts of the world, older populations will outnumber younger populations. Currently, one in seven people is over the age of 65; by 2030, that statistic will increase to one in four. With e-commerce increasingly becoming a way of life, it is important for Web developers and businesses to start paying better attention to the needs of their audiences, especially older adults, and to understand how to effectively reach out to them.
“The opportunities and possibilities of a longer-living society are very exciting,” said Jeanette Takamura, assistant secretary for aging, Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging. “We need to ensure that tomorrow’s older Americans, their families and caregivers have all the necessary tools to prepare for a longer life, including access to technology and the Internet. We appreciate efforts like these that help us prepare for longevity.”
Microsoft has been working with government agencies such as the Administration on Aging, as well as leading national nonprofit and community organizations, to help enable seniors worldwide to have access to technology. As part of this effort, Microsoft set out to understand how Web site designs impact usability for a growing portion of the world’s online population. Microsoft’s white paper offers businesses and Web developers specific guidelines for creating accessible and effective Web sites that meet the needs of older adults. The guidelines provide key steps for increasing a Web site’s readability, usability and functionality for any Web site visitor, regardless of age, eyesight or hearing capacity, and cover all aspects of a Web site, such as layout, style, color, contrast and fonts. In addition, the paper provides general usability and accessibility guidelines aimed at easing document retrieval and avoiding end-user frustration.
Many leading authorities in the fields of aging and technology, including Julia Alvarez, ambassador on aging and Alternate Permanent Representative for the Dominican Republic to the United Nations, collaborated and provided input for the design guidelines presented in the white paper.
“Microsoft is taking an important first step by acknowledging that today’s Web sites can unintentionally alienate a growing segment of the world population,” Alvarez said. “These guidelines are keys for making the Internet ‘driveable’ for people of all ages.”
Microsoft timed the white paper’s release to coincide with Older Americans Month, which is a time to recognize the accomplishments of the nation’s seniors. The focus on older adults also comes at a time when the United Nations celebrates the International Year of Older Persons.
“Design standards based on today’s youth culture don’t and won’t meet the needs of tomorrow’s aging population,” Spiezle said. “Microsoft is working to help ensure that red lights and roadblocks won’t stop older adults from realizing the power of the Internet and the exciting possibilities of computers.”
The Microsoft Senior Initiative is committed to bridging the digital and generational divides by providing older adults with access to information technology and PC literacy training,
introducing them to the exciting possibilities of technology. A copy of the white paper can be obtained from the Seniors and Technology Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/seniors/), which serves as a resource for seniors, their families and communities about the exciting possibilities that can be realized through the use of technology.
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software for personal computers. The company offers a wide range of products and services for business and personal use, each designed with the mission of making it easier and more enjoyable for people to take advantage of the full power of personal computing every day.
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For more information about the Microsoft Senior Initiative:
Please visit the Microsoft Senior Initiative Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/seniors/.
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